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South Sudan to strengthen and enhance HIV programme
UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Dr. Luiz Loures, has welcomed the commitment by South Sudan to strengthen and enhance their HIV programming, in a recent visit to the country. The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, stated “We won the battle for the independence of South Sudan. We will also win the war against HIV. I have made this my priority. I want to keep my people safe at all costs.”
The newly independent nation has made great strides in improving infrastructure and providing some basic social safety nets, including healthcare and education. However after 30 years of civil war, there is still much to be done.
People dying of AIDS-related illnesses has increased nearly two-fold, from 6,900 people in 2001, to 13,000 people in 2012. HIV treatment access is still very low. Of the 150,000 people estimated to be living with HIV in the country, only 9 percent of the people eligible for treatment were accessing it. This figure pertains to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2010 Guidelines - under revised 2013 WHO Guidelines, which make more people eligible for treatment, this number would be even lower. Access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services is also worryingly low – with only 13 percent of pregnant women having access to PMTCT services.
Addressing HIV epidemics in conflict and post-conflict settings is extremely difficult. In particular, violence against women and sexual exploitation are key issues that are often exasperated within these contexts. Dr. Loures called upon the South Sudanese armed forces, and the UN peacekeeping mission troops to combat these contributing factors.
It was noted that over half of South Sudan’s population are under 18, and just under three-quarters are under the age of 30. Thus to fight HIV in South Sudan, HIV prevention and awareness programmes need to be targeted at young people – a point acknowledged by President Kiir, who stated: “If they are left vulnerable, there will be no country.”